As Constantin Stanislavski famously remarked: “There are no small parts, only small actors.” He could have been referring to Miguel Ferrer, one of the finest character actors of his generation. Ferrer died January 19th following a battle with esophageal cancer.
(Left to Right) Miguel Ferrer, Kyle MacLachlan, David Lynch & David Bowie on the set of ‘Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me’ 1992
Ferrer was one of those actors blessed with the ability to make an impact in his first second on screen. I’d call him the ultimate “where have I seen that guy before?” actor except that you never wondered. Whether it’s his turn as Bob Morton, the corporate scumbag of RoboCop; Albert Rosenfeld, the aggressively pacifist forensics expert on Twin Peaks; or Carl Quigley, escaped bank robber in Disney’s Blank Check, once you saw Ferrer in action you didn’t forget him. It doesn’t matter if the scene is 2 minutes or 2 hours – Ferrer makes the most of it.
Born in 1955 to actor Jose Ferrer and singer Rosemary Clooney, it’s fair to say that Ferrer had Hollywood in his blood. He dabbled with music in his teens, but by the early 80s was following in his father’s footsteps. Ferrer made bit-part appearances in various TV series; including the younger version of a character played by his father in a Magnum, P.I. episode. Ferrer even pops up briefly in Star Trek III: The Search For Spock as a helm officer.
It was 1987’s mega-violent and bitingly prescient sci-fi/action classic RoboCop that put him on the map. Ferrer’s turn as Bob Morton is a high-wire sleaze-fest; every flawed aspect of 80’s greed and yuppie culture rolled into one, unforgettable performance. Henceforth, Ferrer was Hollywood’s go-to guy for villains with more slime than blood running in their veins.
A stunning exception to this regrettable typecasting was his role in David Lynch & Mark Frost’s ground-breaking TV series Twin Peaks. Albert Rosenfeld was an abrasive, no-nonsense forensics expert for the FBI. In the second he first opens his mouth to the moment when the sheriff punches his lights out, Ferrer is a marvel of barely contained rage and hostility. The revelation a few episodes later that Rosenfeld is a pacifist is one of the greatest moments in a show that specialized in great moments.
Ferrer would again work with Lynch/Frost for the short-lived comedy On The Air. As harried TV executive Bud Buddwaller, Ferrer attempts to control the chaos of a 1950s variety show. That name – Bud Buddwaller – is one of my all-time favorite “dumb” names for a character. Unsurprisingly, Ferrer excels in the comedic setting. It’s a pity he didn’t get to do more comedy in his time.
In addition to his on-screen gallery of rogues and misfits, Ferrer was a much in-demand voice actor. He was the voice of Shan Yu, the Hun chieftain in Disney’s Mulan. He lent his distinctive voice to cartoon series such as Thundercats, Superman and Adventure Time. In an episode of Robot Chicken, Ferrer provided the voice for Danny Ocean – a character played on the big screen by Ferrer’s first cousin George Clooney.
More recently, audiences would probably have seen Ferrer on NBC’s Crossing Jordan as medical examiner Garret Macy, or on CBS’ NCIS: Los Angeles playing Assistant Director Owen Granger. Though a far cry from the likes of Bob Morton, Ferrer still brought that sense of edginess that always guaranteed the audience wouldn’t take their eyes off him. And we can look forward to a return of my personal favorite of his many characters: Albert Rosenfeld will appear in the Twin Peaks series airing on Showime later this year.
Agents Cooper and Rosenfeld in the field.
Tributes have poured in from fans and co-workers. Among the latter were Mark Hamill, Pauly Perrette and Kyle MacLachlan. George Clooney gave a statement on his cousin’s passing. It says a lot with few words. I’ll leave it here after saying my own: thanks for the work, Miguel Ferrer. You will be missed.
“Today history will mark giant changes in our world, and lost to most will be that on the same day Miguel Ferrer lost his battle to throat cancer. But not lost to his family. Miguel made the world brighter and funnier and his passing is felt so deeply in our family that events of the day, (monumental events) pale in comparison. We love you Miguel. We always will.”
Miguel Ferrer, actor. 1955-2017. R.I.P.